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Unfairly dismissed for making derogatory comment on Facebook

The recent tribunal case of Blue v Food Standards Agency adds to the growing body of case law on social media dismissals.

Mr Blue was a meat hygiene inspector for the Foods Standards Agency. He joined in a Facebook conversation with two employees who had been dismissed from an abattoir he inspected, making and liking derogatory comments about the abattoir manager. These comments were brought to the attention of the abattoir management and a complaint was made to the FSA. Mr Blue was dismissed following a disciplinary investigation with the posts cited as a “breach of trust” and “not professional.”

The tribunal found Mr Blue was dismissed unfairly and he was awarded £32,799.13 in compensation.

The FSA had a social media policy in place, however the tribunal found this was “primarily directed at use at work.” As previous cases have shown, even when an employer has a policy in place, a breach does not necessarily make a dismissal fair. As with the cases of Whitham v Club 24 Ltd and Trasler v B&Q Ltd the previous good record of the employee was a factor in the tribunal’s decision.

The tribunal focussed on the trust and confidence relationship between employer and employee and considered not only the previous record of the employee but also the future impact on his ability to do his job. The tribunal found that “there was no objective reason to believe that his performance would in the future be different simply because his foolish participation in what he had mistakenly believed to be a private online conversation had become more public.”

This adds the new dimension of future performance to the points that employers must consider when disciplining an employee for their social media use.


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